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CD Review

Eugène Ysaÿe

Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27

Gidon Kremer, violin
Mobile Fidelity MFCD-1-921 AAD 54:40
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Over the past few years, the number of CD issues and re-issues of the sonatas of Eugène Ysaÿe has grown rapidly. Ambitious newcomers (seeking a less crowded entreé) and established veterans (exercising interpretive privilege?) alike have assayed these 20th century counterparts to the Bach sonatas and partitas. Their technical and expressive demands draw a revealing portrait of their performer.

Of the complete surveys I have heard, Kremer pushes the virtuosic elements the hardest – and still makes it sound easy. He bolts through the sixth sonata a minute faster than most, transforming the dashing habanera into a white-knuckled running of the bulls. Andrew Colton, who reviewed this disc in High Performance Review 10:3 found Kremer's bravura fairly galvanizing. Another critic, writing for Fanfare, assessed Kremer's reading as "slashing, but prosaic." Both are correct. Kremer has an astringent tone that is guided by literal, slightly inflexible phrasing. But he captures all the notes with piercing clarity. On first hearing, he's impressive and forceful – the fiddle's counterpart to Alexis Weissenberg. After several hearings, though, his unvariegated approach to phrasing and granular tone begin to fail Ysaÿe's suave idiom. Kremer is an acquired taste in any case, and if you are building a library of solo violin works, this is a worthy addition.

An overview of some other contemporary Ysaÿe readings reveals solid work by Oscar Shumsky for Nimbus (NI5039); emotions are stark and gripping, underscored by disagreeably echoic sound. One to avoid is Szabadi (Hungaroton HCD31476) – competence with barely an illuminating spark. Some individual sonatas of note: Aaron Rosand, a direct pedagogical descendant of the Belgian master, gives stimulating and fiery accounts of #2 & 6 on Audiofon CD72012. The variety of tone is unsurpassed. Two versions of the famous "Ballade" (Sonata #3) have been recorded by youngsters: Denis Goldfeld for MCA (AED10610) and Maxim Vengerov for Biddulph (LAW 001). Goldfeld has a very fetching tone and a special way with Paganini; he's definitely worth looking into. Vengerov is a massive talent with explosive reflexes. He turns the sonata into a gothic affair, a breathless careen through the shifty tonalities. By the end he is impersonating Horowitz. Amazing! The rest of the recital is similarly wondrous.

Copyright © 1998, Robert J. Sullivan